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Sheriffs association, Republican lawmakers blast state policy limiting Department of Corrections coordination with ICE when undocumented felons are released

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The Illinois State Capitol is shown in March 2017. 

The Illinois Sheriffs’ Association and Republican lawmakers on Tuesday blasted what they said is a state policy change to stop coordinating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when undocumented immigrants are released from state custody after completing felony sentences.

Before the change, the Kankakee County sheriff’s office transported undocumented felons who were leaving an Illinois Department of Corrections facility but still had a federal immigration detainer to the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee, under a contract with ICE, Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said.

Downey said he was notified Jan. 30 that the state was canceling the process “indefinitely, upon the advice of legal counsel.”

In 2017, then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, signed into law the Trust Act, which prohibits state and local police in Illinois from arresting or detaining a person solely because of their immigration status, or based on a federal immigration detainer. Under the law, authorities are able to hold someone if a judge has issued a warrant.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration is working closely with the Department of Corrections to review existing policies, “build on the progress” made under the Trust Act and “ensure the protection of immigrant families and all Illinois communities,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

“As this work moves forward, the Department of Corrections will pause the majority of its interactions with ICE,” Abudayyeh said. “The governor has made it abundantly clear that Illinois will be a firewall against the president’s attacks on immigrant communities.”

The issue of immigration has become a political flashpoint nationally under President Donald Trump, who has pushed for strict border policies including a wall along the southern border of the United States, and has sharply criticized “sanctuary” cities and states, where local and state laws limit law enforcement cooperation with ICE.

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Under the Trust Act, the Department of Corrections cannot detain someone “solely on the basis of an immigration detainer or non-judicial immigration warrant,” department spokeswoman Lindsey Hess said in an emailed statement.

“All incarcerated individuals are released at the expiration of their sentence,” Hess said.

In 2019, 223 individuals were transferred to the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee after serving out sentences for felony convictions at a state Department of Corrections facility under a contract with ICE, Downey said.

It was not clear how many of those individuals faced deportation after their release from state correctional facilities.

The transfers the Kankakee County sheriff’s office carried out at the request by ICE last year included people who had been convicted of sexual offenses involving minors, murder or attempted murder and aggravated driving under the influence, law enforcement officials said at Tuesday’s news conference.

“We wanted to have a justice system that can quickly and swiftly determine the status of these individuals without risking the safety of the general public, or communities where they were serving a sentence,” Downey said.

The move “raises the stakes for a dangerous or violent altercation to occur in our communities,” Downey said.

Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the policy seems in line with the Trust Act’s purpose of enabling immigrant communities to feel more comfortable interacting with local law enforcement.

"This policy can be seen in that light -- that the state is carrying out the policy embodied in the Trust Act of setting its own limits with respect to its own interactions with federal immigration enforcement,” Tsao said.

Tsao also pointed out that prior to the policy change, the Illinois Department of Corrections already released “many individuals into the community regardless of their immigration status” after those people served time for felony offenses.

A call to a spokesperson at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Chicago was not returned on Tuesday, but ICE issued a news release earlier this month detailing the agency’s arrest of a man at Chicago’s Union Station following his release from an Illinois prison.

ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations unit had filed a detainer with the state Department of Corrections last year for Yoni Cruz-Lopez, a Guatemalan citizen who lives in Mount Prospect, following a felony DUI conviction.

Cruz-Lopez was released from Vandalia Correctional Center Feb. 5, according to the ICE news release.

“Late last month, IDOC cut off all communication with ICE and refuses to turn over convicted felons,” the news release states, going on to say that such policies “leave ICE with no choice, but to increase enforcement to effect arrests to include neighborhoods and public places.”

Sen. Jason Barickman, a Republican from Bloomington, called it a “radical shift in policy,” at the news conference at the state Capitol Tuesday.

“First of all, the administration needs to fix this problem. They have the ability to do so, and I think they immediately should change this policy,” Barickman said of Pritzker’s administration. “We’re here to first of all call on the administration to reverse this reckless policy and ensure the public that they’re safe.”

Sen. Iris Martinez, a Northwest Side Democrat, said she was glad to hear the Department of Corrections would not cooperate with ICE.

“We have to continue to not terrorize this community that has already been terrorized based on the rhetoric that’s out there,” Martinez said.

The state Senate Criminal Law Committee voted Tuesday to send a bill Martinez is sponsoring to the Senate floor that would add perceived or real citizenship or immigration status to the list of motivations that may constitute a hate crime under Illinois law.


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